Virtual learning is a fragile privilege
Opinion of Alaina Crowell
ELHS has fallen into a unique morning routine. Students, depending on which of the five varying schedules they possess, likely wake up between 4:45 a.m. and 7:31 a.m. Most will eat breakfast and brush our teeth. Some will go to school in- person while others learn at home, virtually present. The only aspect of school that tethers us all to the same educational experience is the application we open every morning: Google Classroom.
So, what happens when we wake up, do our separate routines, and the loyal Google Classroom is not colorfully greeting our half-awake faces? What happens when Google crashes? ELHS and schools around the globe caught a glimpse of this imminent crisis on the morning of Dec. 14 (a Monday, of all days). Google stated the issue was due to an “authentication system outage” and reported it lasted from 6:47 a.m. to 7:32 a.m. Eastern time. While this luckily impacted a mere two minutes of a full school day for ELHS, it leaves a scary list of “what if” twists that might not be as far away as we hope.
I will not repeat what we already know, but it leaves everyone wondering what our alternatives are outside of Google or Microsoft, and if a less technology-dependent future is in sight. To be honest, no modern or fully-efficient alternative options appear remotely ideal, but the discussion is worth having: how can ELHS check our dependence on Google, or technology in general?
Before we can plan for a future without Google’s resources, we must hold ourselves accountable for our privileges and keep an open mind to changes in our schedule structure. We don’t know our future, but we need to have plans in place that can supplement Google or in-person learning for a while with little obstacles.
According to an article published by PBS, the majority of American public schools closed for at least a few weeks during the 1918 influenza pandemic, the only exceptions being New York City, Chicago, and New Haven. These closures were closures; no Zoom, no Google Classroom, no Outlook. This clearly was a circumstance of the times, unsustainable, and not conducive to any kind of education.
Yet, it is 2021 and we are hybrid learning and glued to our laptops as universities publish studies suggesting that our screen time is damaging to our vital organs and social lives. If both of these examples occupy some end of an educational spectrum, and both are unfamiliar to longevity, what could a medium option look like?
Instead of having all of our assignments posted to Google Classroom and Google Classroom alone, teachers could create unit or monthly schedules to email to students through Office 365, in case one crashes and the other persists. They could try and balance lessons between Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Nearpod, using the strength in variation. Some could curate huge packets of paper worksheets, so assignments are tangible and not dependent on the Cloud. There are many possible alternatives, but educators and administrators would have a narrower list if they discussed the efficiency of each option.
Most important to keep in mind is that ELHS is privileged enough to be able to regularly depend on high-speed internet for everyone. Without our town’s wealth and location, a hybrid or online model would be far more difficult to effectively do. Just as it is responsible to commit to quality education during challenging times, it is responsible to reflect on our methods and ask ourselves if there is a better way to backup our virtual educational experience.